I give a LOT of writing advice-- to friends, students, random ladies at the grocery store (which, I gotta tell you, rarely works out well). It occurred to me that putting some of this stuff in a blog might be helpful-- and allow me to take a break from saying the same stuff over and over and over and . . . you get the idea. So here goes nothing.
Over the course of the next few months I'd like to cover a variety of topics, some of them directly about writing and some more tangential in nature. In some of these blogs I'll write directly to my college students, but I think some of the stuff I say to students is applicable to "real" human beings, even if you've been out of college for 38 years or never even went (which is fine with me-- some of the most most stupid and mean people I know have doctorates).
First, I don't care what "they" told you, not everyone can write. Writing is an art, but its' also a craft. Both art and craft require incredible dedication and an immense amount of practice. Moreover, art and craft take skill. Writing is like Olympic Curling. I'm not going to lie, I love watching curling,. I know that qualifies me for Super Geek Status, but I figure I already love Gandalf and Hermoine WAY too much to ever be cool.
Curling is like writing. It looks easy. Curlers don't look real athletic even. I mean, they're just sliding rocks down the ice. and sweeping. How hard could it be, right? But try it once. Just once. (You're not going to, I know, but let's pretend) Good curling, Olympic quality curling, takes YEARS of practice and some natural talent. YEARS OF PRACTICE (incomplete sentence for emphasis-- you like?) Same with writing.
So, how do you practice writing? Obviously, you write. I've got a whole bunch of college degrees, so I've lived through years of "I've got an assignment" writing. Because I'm an American historian I wrote a lot more than someone with a PhD in Biology or Under Water Ballet (or Curling for that matter). I also wrote a doctoral dissertation, which turned into my first book. I've written some other history things, some of it published, some not. Trust me, it's a fair bit of stuff. I'm not one of those "I worked on an article this summer," academics. I actually write.
I teach writing at a Southern California university, in both history and interdisciplinary departments, and that means I have to think about writing a lot, which is another kind of practice.. Plus I grade papers, most of them pretty bad (not because this generation is stupid or lazy, because they're not, but for another reason I'll get to in the next paragraph). Grading/editing papers is writing practice., particularly if you take your paper grading seriously and aren't one of those profs who just puts a grade on the paper and calls it a day. (How much do you hate that anyway?).
But here's the most important writing tip I can give you: READ. READ. READ!
Reading is writing practice. You won't need grammar lessons or paragraph problems if you read.. You'll just absorb language usage. The problem is we live in a culture of non-readers and under-readers. Most of my students don't read at all-- not even for class. (They think I don't know, but I can tell.) Turn off your TV. Turn off that STUPID PHONE (which we're mistakenly calling a Smart Phone). Pick up a book. Any book. Like Romance novels even though your lit teacher (or a smarmy friend) said they're "Trashy"? So what? Studies say trashy reading is 784% better than trashy television. OK-- I made that statistic up, but I believe it. And read books. Taking 10 minutes to read a blog (even this one) or the comments on YouTube is NOT real reading. Books are reading.
Are you still here? Go read a book-- any book. Then read another one.